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“Stop atrocities unleashed on innocent people”: Catholic Leaders in Abuja and Jos, Nigeria

Catholic Leaders in Abuja and Jos Brainstorm on measures to end violence between the Jukun and Tiv people

The violence between the Jukun and Tiv people in Nigeria’s Taraba and Benue State, within the Ecclesiastical Provinces of Abuja and Jos, has caught the attention of Church leaders in the region, necessitating a meeting to seek solutions to stop the conflict.

“Today, divine providence has brought some of us Bishops and priests especially from the areas affected by the Jukun-Tiv crisis to brainstorm and to deliberate on how as Catholic clergy ... (we) can help to minimize or to inspire our people to completely stop the atrocities unleashed on innocent people,” the Coadjutor Archbishop of Abuja,  Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama said. 

“It is very embarrassing and indeed disappointing that our people, most of whom profess Christianity can take up arms against one another and commit atrocities against one another on account of tribal differences or in the name of the struggle for economic or political control,” lamented the Archbishop in the October 8 meeting held at the Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace (DREP) Centre in Jos, Middle Belt area in Nigeria. 

In August, a priest heading to Takum (one of the towns experiencing the violence) for a peace meeting on how to resolve the crisis between the warring communities with fellow clergymen was killed and set ablaze in his car.

Archbishop Kaigama urged the priests present at the DREP Centre meeting, most of whom are clergy of Jos and Abuja Archdioceses, to emphasize the value of reconciliation among the people of God in their missions.

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The Nigerian Prelate encouraged the clergy to remain neutral and also to “firmly resist the temptation of taking as real what could be distorted historical narratives, mere prejudices, blackmail or fabricated stories that have no bearing with reality but which severely strain relationships.” 

He also challenged his brother Bishops to go beyond ethnicity in their dealings with clergy and religious saying, “It will be a monumental pastoral tragedy if Bishops henceforth resort to posting priests based on ethnic affiliation.”

“We must recall the tragedy of the Rwandan experience where even some priests, religious and laity were said to have forgotten about their Christian calling and for ethnic reasons, allowed fellow citizens to be killed or maimed simply because they belonged to the opposite ethnic group,” Archbishop Kaigama shared.

Tracing the origin of the Jukun-Tiv crisis to land and unresolved ethnic differences, Archbishop Kaigama observed, “We know how inter-ethnic clashes in our region have erupted and affected Idoma-Tiv- Igala- Ogoja- Jukun - Kuteb-Alago, Eggon, Agatu and even Agila in Benue and Ngbo in Ebonyi States. These recurring conflicts are always mostly over land matters.”

The Archbishop who is also the Apostolic Administrator of Jos Archdiocese urged the government to engage “young people whose idleness is also a major cause of the conflicts.”

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He further called on the Nigerian government to employ expert services of “historians, anthropologists, security agents, boundary demarcation experts, constitutional experts, neutral international bodies (ECOWAS AU, UN) to resolve the claims and counter claims that refuse to allow peace to reign.”

This is not the first time that violence has erupted between the two groups. Reports indicate that similar violence took place in 1959, 1964, 1976, 1991 and 2001.

The Archbishop expressed the hope that their meeting would have an impact and contribute to having a solution to the ongoing crisis saying, “May our reflections here today bear the positive social fruits of unity and peace.”